On July 4, 1776, representatives of the 13 American colonies declared independence from Great Britain.
Their confidence was buoyed by the stunning victory just seven days before by 400 soldiers of the Continental Army’s 2nd South Carolina Regiment on Sullivan’s Island. The small band, hunkered down behind a log and earthen fort at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, drove off the most powerful navy in the world.
Those South Carolinians were volunteers.
On this Independence Day weekend, 240 years later, many Americans will be cooking out, relaxing at the beach or watching fireworks to celebrate the holiday. But another group of young South Carolina volunteers are in the midst of a grueling 10-week training cycle at Columbia’s Fort Jackson to become America’s newest soldiers.
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They raised their right hands on Tuesday to join the United States Army.
Fort Jackson, the nation’s largest basic training base, has been training soldiers since 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I. Fort officials recently launched a yearlong celebration of the base’s 100th birthday. To help mark the centennial, The State newspaper will follow this class of recruits throughout their basic training. Look for coverage in upcoming issues of the Palmetto section. Also, look for a book this fall – in time for Veterans Day on Nov. 11 – that will commemorate Fort Jackson, its history, and its impact on our nation, state and city.
The recruits we will follow joined for many reasons, patriotism chief among them. But they also see the Army as a career, or a way to finance an education, or to instill purpose and discipline in their lives.
Among them are:
▪ An 18-year-old from Hopkins, whose family is steeped in military service;
▪ A star soccer player from Myrtle Beach, who enlisted to become a better teammate;
▪ A Beaufort high school graduate who wants to build a career after the Army;
▪ A young man from St. Matthews who is preparing to study engineering at the University of South Carolina;
▪ A 17-year-old from Bamberg who wants to be a soldier to keep other people safe.
For these five and the other members of the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, the transition is unknown and exciting, an adventure and a vocation, all culminating with a graduation ceremony in September.
Some will make it, some might not. All are in for one of the most challenging chapters in their lives.
5 millionThe number of soldiers who will have trained at Fort Jackson by its centennial in June.
‘It’s a family thing’
Graduated: Ridge View High School
Clarkson is tall, well over six feet, and athletic. He’s been trained in martial arts and judo.
He has a broad smile. An infectious sense of confidence. Think Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
“I’m excited,” he said before starting boot camp, as Army basic training is known. “I’ve prepared myself for it.”
Clarkson prepared by running a mile every morning and two miles in the evening.
His one concern?
“Not being able to achieve what I want to achieve,” he said, smiling. “But I don’t think I’ll have any problems.”
Clarkson said he was destined to be a soldier. “Most of the men in my family have gone into the Air Force or the Army.” he said. “It’s a family thing.”
And he plans to stay in the Army and make it a career.
“I feel like the more time you spend (in the Army) the more people you will meet and the more experiences you will have,” he said. “I like that.”
‘I want to protect people’
Graduated: Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School
Xavier is quiet, but determined. He has split time between family in New York and his mother in Bamberg.
The transition to rural South Carolina was difficult.
“I wasn’t really social,” he said. “But I enjoy talking to people and helping people the best I can.”
Ruffin always wanted to join the Army. And to fill that social gap, he joined Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School’s ROTC, or Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
“They helped me step outside my normal comfort zone,” he said. “I liked the community service projects.”
Ruffin said his reason for joining the military wasn’t to shoot weapons and kill the bad guys. He signed up to be a Patriot missile system operator. The Patriot is the nation’s premier anti-ballistic missile system.
“I want a job where I don’t actively go out and hurt people,” he said. “I want to protect people.”
Ruffin wants to become an officer “to help kids and lead them down the right path,” he said. “My biggest fear is not achieving my goals. It keeps me motivated.”
‘It will make me a great team member’
Hometown: Myrtle Beach
Graduated: Socastee High School
Udet began playing soccer at age four. After a brief hiatus in middle school, she took up the sport again in high school and excelled.
She lettered for three years and was captain her senior year.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “It taught me a lot.”
Udet is joining the Army Reserve. She will attend Auburn University after basic training while she serves in the Army. She could have gotten a soccer scholarship, but chose the Army instead.
“I wouldn’t have been able to give (Auburn) 100 percent of my time because of weekend drills,” she said. “And I wanted to do something bigger. (The Army) will be challenging me mentally and physically, like soccer. It will make me a great team member.”
Udet is also taking advantage of military scholarships – a huge incentive for Army recruits. She received $80,000 in tuition money, between the G.I. Bill and other assistance. And Auburn cut her tuition by $9,000 a semester because of Army service.
She plans to become a cargo specialist in the Reserve. “It’s the highest-paying job I qualified for,” she said.
But, eventually, she wants to transition to animal care specialist in the Army. “More like a vet.”
Before her basic training started, Udet said she was not nervous about the rigors of boot camp, but would miss terribly her mother Danyl and twin sister, Samantha.
“We’re really a tight family,” she said. ‘It’s going to be strange not to have them around.”
‘The Army is going to help me better myself’
Graduated: Battery Creek High School
Allicia Wiggs played basketball in high school for three years. She has been in ROTC for four years.
Wiggs said the Army will be a great transition between high school and the “real world.”
“I wasn’t ready to go to (college) yet,” she said. “The Army is going to help me better myself and help pay for college.”
Wiggs wants to go into the active duty Army, rather than the Reserve or National Guard. She wants to travel. Have some adventures.
Wiggs plans to train for a human resources job in the Army – a specialty that will serve her well once she returns to civilian life, she said.
“When I get out, I want to have a job,” she said.
With her athletic ability and four years of ROTC, she said she wasn’t nervous about basic training.
“What’s there to be nervous about?” she said. “I’m ready. I think I’m going to be great.”
‘It’s a family legacy’
Hometown: St. Matthews
Graduated: Calhoun County High School
Before starting basic training, Jamie Bowen worked out a lot. Although he played varsity baseball for Calhoun County High School, Bowen tried to get ready for the trials of basic training before he embarked on his journey into the military.
“The biggest thing for me is getting physically fit,” he said. “I’ve been drinking lots of water. Running. Push-ups. Sit-ups.”
Bowen, too, will benefit from generous military scholarships and assistance.
As a member of the Army Reserve, Bowen plans to study engineering at the University of South Carolina. So, in the Army he signed up to be a radio operator and maintainer.
“I just wanted to do something with engineering,” he said.
Bowen also has a military lineage, including his father and his grandfather.
“It’s a family legacy,” he said. “It’s a military legacy.”
About Fort Jackson
▪ On June 2, 1917, Congress approved opening an Army training center near Columbia. In July 1917, the center was named Camp Jackson in honor of the late Andrew Jackson, a former Army major general and the nation’s seventh president.
▪ Up to 50,000 recruits undergo basic training at Fort Jackson every year. The fort is the nation’s largest military basic training facility.
▪ By next June, five million soldiers will have trained at Fort Jackson since it opened.
▪ Brig. Gen. John P. Johnson became the fort’s 49th commanding general on June 24.
▪ Other training facilities at Fort Jackson include the Army’s Drill Sergeant Academy, the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School, and the Soldier Support Institute.
▪ Fort Jackson has a $2 billion economic impact on the Midlands area, according to a 2015 study by the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.
▪ The fort covers 52,000 acres.
Sources: Fort Jackson, ArmyBases.org, U.S. Army
Did you train at Fort Jackson?
As part of our coverage of Fort Jackson’s centennial celebration, we want to tell the stories of the women and men who trained there through the decades. Please send your stories about Fort Jackson to Associate Editor Paul Osmundson at email@example.com or to 1401 Shop Road, Columbia, S.C., 29201.